Free ResourcesWeb Design

The 5 Wisdoms You Need Before Becoming a Self Employed Wed Designer

By September 23, 2013 3 Comments

I always wanted to own my own business. Mum said even when I was 10 and refused to wear shoes one day, I said to her “when I grow up, I’m going to run my own business so I don’t have to wear shoes and I can have my music as loud as I want and no one can tell me otherwise.”

I tell ya, I had to chuckle one day when I realised about a year in that I was indeed walking around my office music blaring and shoes nowhere to be seen! I’m such a defiant little b*tch, still to this day!

When I decided to take the plunge though at 24, I did the one thing I think ultimately every real entrepreneur has to do… and that is dive head first into the deep end and hold my breath.

So what has 10 years in business given me, other than a lot more greys?

Thankfully, everything’s ended up smelling of roses (mostly!). I’m now living the dream life by the sea, getting real close to getting my work/life balance in check and blissfully running my own web design agency with 20+ staff.

But boy, it’s never been smooth sailing. I’m not gonna lie, it’s been frickin hard!!!

Although I wouldn’t change the way I did things, and I’m extremely proud of the courage I had in my early days, sometimes I wish I could go back to my 24 year old self and give myself a heads up as to what to expect.

Unfortunately, I can’t time travel, but I can give YOU those little pearls of wisdom that can make your life a lot easier when you start to become a professional self employed web designer.

1. Have you done your research? I mean REALLY done your research?

The idea of running your own business and being your own boss can be very exciting… so exciting in fact that you might be a little hasty and run in head first.

If you rush head first into your web design business you run the risk of cutting corners and making the mistakes that will plague your business for a long time.

Don’t rush like I did!

Make sure you’ve fully look into everything. These are just some questions you might want to ask yourself:

  • Where’s your business going to be based?
  • Who are your competitors? Particularly the direct ones?
  • How will you market your business?
  • What will you specialise in?
  • How will you make money for your business?
  • How will you stand out from the competition?
  • Is there enough demand for your services?
  • Have you got your work processes in place?
  • What are the financial projections of your business?

However, be mindful… too much research might encourage you to procrastinate, and ultimately delay diving in.

Don’t get caught up in ‘analysis paralysis’ as I like to call it.

So make a list of what you need to research to start your business, and just set aside some time to do it.

2. Be honest, are you cut out to work on your own?

Working for yourself is bloody hard work. You have to have have a ton of self-discipline and you have to make a shitload of sacrifices on a daily basis.

I mean it sounds great doesn’t it? Being your own boss, doing your own designs for YOUR clients and making money without having to share it with anyone else.

But like when you’re preparing to interview someone for a job, you need to sit down and have a serious think and ask yourself about your own strengths and weaknesses.

  • Am I persistent enough to keep at this even when the going gets tough?
  • Can I make the sacrifices I need to e.g. when all my friends are out partying and I have to work 15 days straight?
  • Am a good long-term planner? Can I stick to the plans I come up with and see things through to fruition?
  • Will I get into good habits, like starting work at 7am, and finishing after 6pm?
  • Am I willing to put in the extra effort and time to make my new venture successful?
  • Is there any way my behaviour might sabotage my business?
  • Am I willing to take advice from those who know better?
  • Am I a good problem solver?
  • Will I interact with enough people during the week?
  • Am I prepared to do whatever it takes to educate myself and keep raising the bar every year so I’m constantly stepping myself and my business up to the next level?

One piece of advice I can give you is to make strict rules for yourself and stick to them. After all, if you hired a junior designer to work for you, you’d expect them to work a certain amount of hours and deliver a certain amount of work.

YOU are no different! Don’t be fooled, being your own boss requires a mindset that few are cut out to handle.

Being in business requires the relentless ability to pick yourself up and dust yourself off even after you get knocked out day after day, week after week, month after month.
You just have to learn how to roll with the punches, ride the waves so to speak and push on. Persistance is what makes you successful.

You should expect a certain level of work and time out of yourself. So draw up those rules and STICK to them.


3. Do you have enough money in the bank?

I’ve got to be honest with you, I wasn’t so diligent with this tip but I was lucky because I had so much work coming in, that within 6 months I could fund my growth with my cashflow.

I started my business with a $4,000 loan from my parents and a desk in their loungeroom. I put the cash towards a computer, sofware and a chair and had a grand or so left in the business bank account.

Unfortunately a lot of designers start their own business out of passion and not out of common sense (yup, I’m guilty of this! ;). I admire anyone who wants to brave it out and go it alone, but until you have your finances in order, your dream job might end up coming to a crashing half sooner than you think.

Sadly, a lot of start-up web designers start off under-funded, when the sad reality is that you need sufficient reserves to survive the development period.

After all, if you can’t cover your initial start up costs and the first 3 months for your business, how can you expect to make it past the first few months? I guess in my case, it forced me to get creative. I hit the streets door-knocking selling advertising in a calendar I created and after bold-calling on 100 businesses, I had my first 20 clients.

The best thing you can do is do a little bit of planning ahead of starting your business. By plotting out all your potential costs, INCLUDING your living and utility expenses, you can get a good idea as to how much you need in the bank before you start your venture.


4. Can you handle the admin for your business?

This is something to that you need to take into account before you officially hit the red button and start working for yourself.

Running your own web design business doesn’t JUST involve making nice looking websites (if ONLY!), unfortunately you need to learn the art of admin and proper bookkeeping. These are just some of the admin tasks you will need to handle:

  1. Managing briefs & website planners.
  2. Sending out and managing quotes.
  3. Handling client payments.
  4. Managing project timetables.
  5. Working with client and employer contracts.

Thankfully, if you sign up to my Reseller program, you can get access to all my 150+ resources I created over the past 10 years, including tons of planners and templates that’ll make the running of your new business A LOT easier.


5. Do you have the right tools for the job?

This may seem obvious, but many people start off using inferior software and equipment, and quickly find they run into trouble when trying to produce website for your clients.

  • Do you have the right design software? (I love the fact that Adobe now let you pay by the month. Back in my day, I had to take out a $10,000 loan just to buy software for my team!! Argggh the joys of growing a business!)
  • Do you have the means to design and produce websites for your clients?
  • Do you have the means to publish the website online?
  • Can you offer any additional services your clients might want like marketing, branding workshops, copywriting etc?
  • Do you have the knowledge on how to run your business?
  • Do you have a mentor who can help guide you and fast-track your journey?

You want to make the best possible impression of your clients, after all they are the possibly one of the best sources for future clients and repeat business! So by having the best software, equipment and alliances, you can ensure you deliver the best possible work for them.

After a few years working with a web development partner (and tearing my hair out with almost every project), I decided to partner with a programming guru to help me create a web design program so that I could design and build website quicker and more profitable for my clients.

I saw a real gap in the small business website market and so out of pure frustration of having to turn down 50+ website leads a year due to price, I decided to create something that changed the way the industry worked.

My web design program can:

  1. Help you design websites effortlessly using just your design skills.
  2. Easily allow you to publish the website online withouth being dependant on a developer so much.
  3. Help you setup hosting and the domain name through easy step by step system.
  4. Give you full development support.

If you’d like to see my website builder, it is available through my Reseller Program and you can see a demo of how it works here.

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Best of luck running your business!

It’s a sad reality, but not every graphic designer can successfully make the progression into running their own web design business. But I’ll leave you with one of my favourite sayings…

You never fail until you stop trying!

I grew up with this saying and it’s still something I draw inspiration from daily!

Follow my pearls of wisdom, work your butt off, invest in yourself and you’ll get there!

I hope my advice helps set you on the best possible path to running your own profitable design business and allows you to live a life you only dreamed of.

And don’t forget… I’m here if you want any advice at all. You can get in touch with me by either leaving a comment below, or by joining my Facebook page and sending me a direct message.

So what advice do you have for going it alone? Leave me a comment below!

What do you think? Share your comments below.


Author Bianca Board

After 20 years inspiring more than 10,000 designers and small business owners to take control of their business, Bianca is now spearheading Foxley, a brand spanking new SaaS platform for designers. She is deeply passionate about helping distil the complexities of running a web design business - to make it easier for all designers to make the leap from designer to design entrepreneur. She’s a translator of web jargon, a lead generation master, a champion for small businesses and you can Google her brain for endless strategies on how to transform your business.

More posts by Bianca Board
  • Lliam

    Sounds like you’re as stubborn and passionate as I am Bianca! I sat myself down when I first decided to go out on my own and it was scary as hell but then I ended up meeting Chris my business partner and between us we realised we had these combined qualities to really come up with a successful business model. You do have to constantly self evaluate and work out what your strengths and weaknesses are so you can either improve on them (and work bloody hard at doing so) or find great people to surround yourself with that can lift you up to new levels. Half the reason i’m loving your blog posts is that it’s a good little reminder to not get complacent and rest on your laurels.

  • James

    It looks like you made the same mistakes that I did when I was first starting out. I had no idea what I was doing when I first stepped out of design school and tried to rush into running my own business. It wasn’t long before I realised that I knew absolutely nothing about running a business and didn’t have any plan or strategy in place to make the necessary changes. Thinking about it now, the admin was one thing that I really struggled with and if I was starting again would definitely be looking for someone else to handle.

  • Dylan

    You really hit the nail on the head Bianca! This not only can be applied to graphic and web design but anyone considering branching out in to their own business. Over the years i have seen so many failed enterprises based on an underestimation of what they need to be successful. Great advice for anyone looking to start up.

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